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Closing the Relationship Gap: CRM, Customer Data and Social Media

I spent a few days last week at Forrester's Customer Intelligence Conference. The role of the customer in today's branding efforts was discussed in detail from various viewpoints. One analogy that was used in several presentations is an old favorite of mine:

Prior to the days of mass merchandising, many brands had direct contact with their customers. This contact allowed them to quickly assimilate feedback into their business processes and it created a two-way conversation between the brand and the customer, enhancing the relationship. However, once mass merchandising quickly expanded the customer base and distribution channels, customer feedback was handled via research which turned the conversation into a brand monologue and the connection between the customer and the brand became a long-distance relationship. However, with the rise of social media, the opportunity and need to build 1:1 relationships is on the top of the marketing agenda.

So, where does this leave Customer Relationship Management, which played a role in closing this gap prior to the growth of the online conversation? That depends on how you use it.

CRM is currently caught in a war of semantics, especially the management portion of the discipline. Relationships should not be managed; they can be influenced and enhanced, but never managed. This may seem to be a minute detail, but understanding this is extremely important to the success of a brand's relationship efforts.

I love you

Many brands are still using CRM as a one-way communication between the brand and the customer. They manage communications from the view of what is best for the brand rather than what the customer wants. This process maintains the relationship gap by proving to the customer no one is really listening to them. Using aggregated customer data can help change this:

- Instead of focusing on purchases, add interactions to the customer records.

- Create models based on where, when and how the customer would like to communicate and tailor the program accordingly.

- Personalize every touch point, not via basic recognition and sales algorithms, but via the customer experience.

- Start adding emotional metrics into the value equation and view lifetime customer value as a combination of purchases, engagements and brand advocacy.

And, from now on, let's call it CRE (Customer Relationship Enhancement). I'm sure that the Commercial Real Estate industry won't mind, especially after we show them how they can improve their customer relationships.